A few takeaways from Friday night’s Blue-White Game at Rupp Arena …
Knox keeps improving
The early favorite to be this team’s leading scorer is Kevin Knox, who worked his way up the recruiting rankings throughout his high school career and has developed into an offensive threat from all over the court.
Knox — a 6-foot-9 freshman who could realistically play the shooting guard position — led the Cats with 22 points Friday night, scoring 18 of those in the first half on 8-for-10 shooting.
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He started things off by swishing a jumper from about a step inside the three-point line. He added a three-pointer a little bit later, made a stepback, fadeaway mid-range shot after that and crashed the boards for putback points.
Knox looked uncomfortable at times when he played away from the basket even just a couple of years ago. He could be effective in that role then, but he was often at his best using his size and athleticism in the paint. That’s no longer the case (and his showing at John Calipari’s USA Basketball training camp in June was more evidence of this growth).
Knox is a legit outside player who can fill it up from all three levels, and he’ll likely be the bellwether for UK’s offense this season.
Kentucky fans finally got an extended look at Hamidou Diallo on Friday night, and he showed the good and (possibly) bad in his game.
Diallo, who joined the Cats midway through last season but still hasn’t played a real game for UK, offered up one of the first highlights of the Blue-White scrimmage, throwing down a two-handed, swing-on-the-rim slam less than three minutes into the game.
There was an audible gasp of anticipation from some in the Rupp crowd when Diallo got the ball in the open court and sprinted toward the rim. There was, of course, a loud cheer when he completed the dunk. UK fans have heard plenty about the freshman’s athleticism, and this was their first real glimpse of it. Later in the half, Diallo led a two-on-one fastbreak and threw an alley-oop pass off the backboard to a hard-charging PJ Washington, who slammed it home.
Diallo was plenty active and plenty athletic, and both will be important for the Cats.
Now, about that three-point shooting.
As much as Diallo is known for his dunks, he’s also known for his struggles from outside.
He went 1-for-4 from three-point range Friday night. One of his misses was an airball, and another barely grazed the rim as it flew past. Those shots certainly weren’t pretty.
Diallo’s teammates at the end of last season praised what they saw as tremendous improvement in his outside shot during the few months he’d been on UK’s campus at the time. Diallo also struggled with his shooting at Calipari’s USA camp in June, however, and Friday didn’t offer much confidence that he’ll be the type of three-point threat the Cats need him to be this season.
It’s a small sample size, yes, but Diallo still needs to prove he can make shots from deep.
Point guard play
There’s been plenty of talk so far this preseason about the Quade Green vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander practice battles at the point guard position.
We didn’t see much of that Friday night.
Brad Calipari spent a lot of time defending Green, and Gilgeous-Alexander started the game with Hamidou Diallo on him. Those matchups changed throughout the game, but there wasn’t a whole lot of Green vs. Gilgeous-Alexander — two very different point guards who could both be intriguing starting options.
Green — a 6-foot freshman — made some nice plays to find open guys, but he also made some silly turnovers that had him shaking his head. He comes to UK with the reputation as a vocal leader and a terrific facilitator — his new teammates have said they’ve seen it here, too — but it’s clear he’s not quite on the same page yet with the rest of the Cats.
That’s completely normal, and it’s something that every one of Calipari’s freshman point guards has dealt with at this point in the season.
Green should be one of the best outside shooters on the team — he was 3-for-7 on threes Friday night — and he finished with seven assists and four turnovers.
Gilgeous-Alexander — a 6-6 freshman — made some slashing, athletic plays in transition but was more of a game manager in halfcourt sets. He kept the ball moving with passes around the perimeter and didn’t try to force much offensively.
Calipari even lamented after the game that Gilgeous-Alexander passed up on two or three shots that he should have taken. (It’s worth noting that he did not attempt a single three-point shot despite playing all 40 minutes and getting some open looks from deep.)
Both will play plenty this season, and both will go through their growing pains, but — by the end of the season — Green and Gilgeous-Alexander are likely to be different players than what UK fans saw Friday night, which is almost always the case with these five-star freshmen.
Green will start clicking as the guy who gets everybody else in the right spots, and Gilgeous-Alexander will be more assertive with the ball than he was in this scrimmage.
▪ The Blue Team starting lineup of Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Nick Richards is one possibility for the Cats’ starting lineup this season. That, of course, would leave out Wenyen Gabriel, who was praised throughout the preseason and was arguably the most energetic player for long stretches Friday night.
▪ Freshman forward PJ Washington should be a steady force for this team, and the Blue-White Game was a good introduction to the UK fans. Washington had 21 points and five rebounds, going 9-for-12 from the floor and making several mid-range jumpers. He showed off his basketball IQ, always seeming to end up in the right place at the right time.
▪ UK was 13-for-29 (44.8 percent) from three-point range, and these Cats’ outside shooting has been a major question coming into the season. Kevin Knox, Quade Green, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Hamidou Diallo all made three-pointers. The scholarship players on the team went 8-for-20 (40 percent) from deep. Again, it’s a small sample size and it was a scrimmage, but if the Cats can find a few capable three-point shooters, it’ll solve one of their biggest potential problems.
▪ A common narrative on this team during the preseason: They’re huge. It doesn’t really hit home until you see them all out on the same court at the same time. To end the first half, the Blue Team consisted of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PJ Washington, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel and Nick Richards. Those heights: 6-6, 6-7, 6-9, 6-9, 6-11. That’s a ton of size, and that’s not a gimmick lineup cobbled together for a scrimmage. That’s a lineup you’re likely to see at times during the season. Scary stuff.